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Imagine Cathy Hutchinson's satisfaction!
For the first time since being paralyzed from the neck down by a stroke fifteen years ago, she was able to reach for and drink coffee on her own—using her thoughts alone to direct a robotic arm to her lips.
The feat was made possible by Cathy's fierce determination and a device called the BrainGate2 neural interface system, designed to put robotic arms and other assistive devices under the brain's control. The BrainGate consists of a baby aspirin-sized sensor that is implanted into the motor cortex (the part of the brain that directs movement) to monitor brain signals. It is attached to computer software and hardware that then turn the signals into commands for moving external devices, such as Hutchinson's robotic arm.
"The smile on her face was remarkable," said Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of engineering at Brown University in Providence, R.I. and a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the clinical study of BrainGate. Although the technology is years away from practical use, he noted it is making good progress.
"This is another big jump," said John Donoghue, Ph.D., who leads the development of BrainGate technology and is the director of the Institute for Brain Science at Brown University. "We're getting closer to restoring some level of everyday function to people with limb paralysis."
"That it is possible for a person to mentally control a robotic limb in three-dimensional space represents a remarkable advance," noted Roderic Pettigrew, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which supports the research. The ultimate goal is to reconnect the brain directly to paralyzed limbs rather than robotic ones, according to researchers.